Post-BookCamp Brain Explosion

This past weekend, the second-ever BookCamp Toronto brought together publishing types of all sorts for a day of discussion, discovery, and drinking (the latter starting as early as 10:30 am, in Michael Tamblyn’s now-legendary Kobo Q&A/ summer wine tasting). The BookCamp “unconference” model is an intriguing contrast to the usual progression of talks/presentations/limited discussion time. Not only is it free (potential attendees merely need to get their act together early and sign up online before all of the spots are taken), making it accessible to both students and executives alike, but the sessions are user-generated; everyone is encouraged to propose a session on the BookCamp wiki in the months leading up to the event.

By crowdsourcing the day’s topics, BookCamp ends up providing a mixed bag of content: writers, print and e-book designers, data geeks, educators, journalists, marketers, and agents were all represented and would have found something of interest. With session leaders discouraged from using typical presentation materials, the talks often became more of a back-and-forth between everyone in the room who wanted to share their experiences or find out more (I can’t pretend like I went to all of the sessions, but that was how I remember it anyway; of course discussion happened more organically in small rooms with round tables rather than the large auditoriums).

Here are a few topics that stuck with me:

  • Publishers shouldn’t be afraid to embrace “free” as a marketing strategy, but it has to be just that: a strategy. When done right it can drive print sales, but merely making content freely available and leaving it at that probably won’t engage anybody (from “Launching a Digital Business from Inside a Print Business” with Harlequin’s Sulemaan Ahmed and Jenny Bullough)
  • Ebook retailers and publishers need to forge stronger relationships when it comes to marketing; the online space is great for recommendations and “Top ___” or “Best of ___” lists, but why should the retailer be alone in deciding what goes there? (from “Reading is Everywhere” with Kobo’s Michael Tamblyn)
  • Why should we ascribe traditional typographical conventions to ebooks? Yes, standards need to exist, but what’s the point in stringent book design (ex. removing widows and orphans) when the user has the power to change the layout of the page, or may read the text on another device? (from “Ebooks: From Structure to Typography” with Scott Boms and Joe Clark)
  • What would it take to restructure production and editorial workflows at a large press in order to make them more agile? (from The Book of MPub with SFU’s John Maxwell and students)

If you were there too, I’m curious: what topics and questions did you go home thinking about?